the all-electric in 2035 is not the silver bullet

On June 8, the European Parliament voted in favor of banning the sale of new thermal cars from 2035 onwards. A vote described by many as historic. But this is just the first step to fundamentally transform the mobility industry. Reducing the car fleet, the size and weight of vehicles, sobriety in our travels, developing smooth modes, car sharing and carpooling are all challenges to overcome in order to achieve our climate goals.

The climb was steep, but they made it. On Wednesday, June 8, MEPs voted in favor of ending sales of new thermal cars from 2035. And this, despite intense lobbying by the automotive industry. But this was just the first step in a transformation that promises to be much deeper. “It is indeed a historic decision and it is important to celebrate it because it sends a strong signal for tomorrow. But that won’t magically eliminate emissions from the sector.” summarizes Pierre Leflaive, Transport Manager at the Climate Action Network (Rac).

“For both greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric pollutants, the electric car appears to be more favorable than the thermal car, but in proportions that remain insufficient and that should not mask emission levels that remain high,” analyzes Aurélien Bigo, a researcher on the energy transition in transport, in an article published in the Revue de l’Institut polytechnique de Paris. “Electricity should therefore be encouraged, because it is the best alternative to oil separation, but it cannot be seen and considered as a single miracle solution… because it is not.“.

“Tomorrow, a lighter, smaller and less emitting vehicle fleet”

Tomorrow, the entire fleet of current cars will therefore not be able to be replaced by an all-electric one. It simply would not be environmentally sustainable. If an electric car emits three to five times less greenhouse gases than a thermal vehicle over its entire life cycle, manufacturing it presents many challenges. The extraction of rare minerals and metals in particular is very harmful to the environment and raises the question of the finiteness of resources. The relocation of battery production and recycling are also major challenges. The size of the car fleet and the weight of the vehicles are therefore essential points to be discussed.

While one in two cars sold today is an SUV, we will have to make a 90°C turn to move towards a smaller, lighter and less emitting fleet of cars., specifies Pierre Leflaive. The need for critical metals depends on the size of the battery and therefore the vehicle. In addition, a recent study by Emissions Analytics shows that emissions linked to tire wear increase with vehicle mass and turn out to be nearly 2,000 times higher, on average, than emissions linked to tailpipes. Lighter vehicles will also be more affordable for the more modest ones.

But this issue of vehicle weight was not addressed by MEPs. Therefore, this will be carried out at the national level during the discussion of the Finance Act 2023 in the fall. Rac proposes an amendment to lower the weight penalty limit to 1,300 kg (40% of the fleet) against 1,800 kg (2% of the fleet) and introduce a new one on electric vehicles from 1,800 kg.

Question the current uses of the car

Other levers can be activated. Of course we are thinking about alternative modes of transport such as public transport, train, bicycle or even walking. The supply of cars through rides should also be encouraged. “The car should no longer be seen as a private object, but as a service.“says Rac that proposes the constitution of fleets of public vehicles. Finally, it is a question of reducing our movements by finding more proximity daily and reducing longer trips.

Aurélien Bigo points to other issues that will remain unchanged with the switch to all-electric: “the space consumption of the car; transport infrastructure, leading to soil artificialization and impacts on biodiversity; accidentology issues; sedentarism and sedentarism. To summarize, he says: “electrification is essential to achieving our climate goals, but it is the unsustainability of current car uses that must be challenged“.

Conceição Álvarez @conce1

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